Big Meat Answers Critics: Working ‘Tirelessly’ for Safety

Omaha, NE.—On the heels of a federal investigation into worker safety on the kill floor, one of the country’s largest meat groups tells News Channel Nebraska that “risk” comes with the territory.

Meat packers in Nebraska—folks on the kill floor—are part of a federal health and safety investigation that finds, among other things, workers afraid to complain.

According to a recently released 71-page report, workers in Nebraska and four other states are “reluctant to report injuries, illnesses and hazards because they fear losing their jobs.”

Other problems include “protecting workers from certain chemicals” and “timely access to bathrooms.”

According to the American Association of Meat Processors, the industry has “worked tirelessly to provide training and protective equipment.” Executive Director Chris Young adds, “There is always risk involved when working with knives and machinery.” The AAMP represents 1,300 small and medium-sized poultry and food operations, including slaughterhouses.

The federal report notes that meat and poultry slaughter and processing is one of the most hazardous industries in the United States.

An industry watchdog, Nebraska Appleseed, applauded the report quoting a former packing house worker in Nebraska: “Meatpacking plants are not only slaughterhouses for pigs, they are also slaughterhouses for humans,” said Lupe Vega-Brown.” They exploit you and after you get injured, they will fire you. Within a few years of working at a plant, it will end your dreams.”

The Government Accountability Office says it interviewed 72 meat and poultry workers and spoke with the workers in both English and Spanish. Those workers were not identified.

The GAO’s investigation was centered on two other federal agencies: OSHA and the Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Services. One of the report’s oddest findings uncovered the FSIS turning a blind eye to problems. According to the report, “FSIS inspectors may be reluctant to make referrals to OSHA about hazards in plants because they fear it could trigger an OSHA inspection of FSIS.”

The report made several recommendations to improve worker safety. First and foremost OSHA is urged to take additional steps—including off-site interviews—to encourage workers to report dangerous conditions.

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